Letters [37]

Dear Sir,
Re your editorial in the Spring 1998 edition – the use of paddle leashes in the surf.

This may be one of those “chicken or the egg” questions where advocates for either side agree to disagree forever! However, I’ll have a say in the matter. I feel I’m qualified to comment, having guided a fair number of paddlers through the surf in both singles and doubles both upright and upside down!

I must say, I really hate using a paddle leash. It makes me feel somehow that I’m tied to my boat and occasionally when I use a stern rudder stroke, I feel the leash stretch or snag along the shaft as I reach back to the stern of the kayak. It interferes with my desired feeling of freedom in my boat. They’re awful things but they work!

Having said that though, I would never paddle without one on my boat. The dammed thing is indispensable in rescues, especially in strong winds and big seas where a drifting paddle only has to be one wave away from the boat and it’s out of sight. In rescues in adverse conditions a lost paddle is just another one of those contributing factors that makes you wish you’d cancelled the paddle for the day and stayed home in bed! Don’t laugh……it happened to an experienced paddler at sea off Jervis Bay a few years ago – his unleashed paddle blew away. I must write an account of that event one day to put the record straight.

Now, paddle leashes in the surf. On commercial multi-day paddles that I lead, the paddle leashes are attached to the paddles on day 1 and they stay that way for the duration of the trip – surf and all. I have never had a capsized paddler tangle in a leash in the surf or be restrained from wet-exiting by a leash. I am positive though that had I not used leashes for surf entries/exits, I would be needing the spare paddles strapped to the rear decks! It seems to me that when a boat capsizes in the surf, it goes upside down and invariably stays that way – a one hundred and eighty degree turn only. I have also found that a capsized kayak generally doesn’t stay on a wave – rather the wave passes over the upturned boat. Visions of leash plus water pressure pinning a hapless paddler to their craft are in my opinion incorrect perhaps no-leash proponents have visions of distressed paddlers pinned to their boats like Captain Ahab on Moby Dick’s back. In my experience this just doesn’t happen.

Now consider this: You’ve capsized in a very cold foaming surf without a paddle leash. Which bit do you hang on to? …the paddle or the boat. It’s very cold and you need to get ashore very quickly. The kayak, you feel will wash ashore, but you can’t swim with a paddle in your hands can you? If you try to throw the paddle ahead of you, you risk losing it in longshore rip. Will you feel like another swim to find your paddle when you get ashore in these conditions? Will you be able to find it? Just how visible is your white-bladed paddle in foaming white surf anyway? Good luck!

Paddle leashes keep boat and paddle together. One is useless without the other.

Mr Editor, I wrote on this issue in the Club’s magazine some time ago and asked for comment on the “leash in surf” question. I, too would like to hear from anyone who has had a bad experience with a leash in surf conditions.

Dave Winkworth